Rajaji and my father shared a close and abiding friendship for over six decades till the end. Whenever Rajaji visited Bengaluru, he invariably stayed in our house notwithstanding the protocol warranted by the official positions he occupied from time to time.
A pair of dark-tinted glasses he wore owing to his eye condition was a matter of much speculation in the political circles then, attracting several interpretations, some of them even atrociously humorous.
According to some, he wore dark glasses because the 'Southern Chanakya' did not want anyone to make out who he was looking at, and also to prevent his eyes from giving away his thoughts!
On one such visit to Bengaluru in 1950, he was holding the exalted position of the governor-general of India. Despite stiff resistance from his security staff, he stuck to his decision to stay with us.
During the course of his three-day stay, many people from all walks of life were eager to meet him and seek his guidance on personal and several other matters. Despite his enormous pressing engagements, Rajaji never hesitated to spare as much time as he could to patiently interact with them.
It was at this juncture that a young lady in deep distress (daughter-in-law of a distant relative of ours) sought to meet him urgently, and seeing her condition, Rajaji readily agreed. She narrated, amidst uncontrollable sobs, how she was being ill-treated, humiliated and tortured by her unscrupulous mother-in-law.
"I am shattered€¦ I have no one to turn to as my parents are no more; even my husband who has married me for love, supports his mother outright and lets me down! He is a total mamma's boy," she lamented.
"Rajaji uncle," she continued to plead with folded hands, "you are known to fight for the cause of the weak and the oppressed. My position, as you can visualise, is worse than that. But for my only young son, I would have definitely resorted to something drastic. Please do something to put an end to these atrocities being perpetrated on young daughters-in-law like me by their ruthless mothers-in-law! Only you can help me!"
Rajaji slowly took off his dark glasses. He made no effort to hide his tear-filled eyes reflecting his soft and compassionate interior. There was no trace of the tough politician in them. The grief of the young woman had melted the iron man.
"What a strange and tragic coincidence, my dear child," said Rajaji with a heavy voice. "Nearly two decades ago, your mother-in-law had come to me, to this very house, with an identical problem, and believe me, she had described her woes against her mother-in-law in exactly the same language and tenor as you have just done. I had told her that when she got her daughter-in-law, she should treat her as her own daughter by forgiving her lapses. Obviously, nothing of that kind seems to have happened! Now, dear young lady, you say you have a son. When you get your daughter-in-law, will you break this vicious chain by making her find a mother in you? Right now, excuse the lapses of your mother-in-law as you would of your own mother and make her see a daughter in you. Do this for me. I shall do the rest!"